Work continues on effort to extend broadband reach for Gasconade countians

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 8/27/21

HERMANN — Another session was held last week by a group looking for ways to extend broadband coverage in Gasconade County, a move aimed at making high-speed Internet service available to the …

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Work continues on effort to extend broadband reach for Gasconade countians

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HERMANN — Another session was held last week by a group looking for ways to extend broadband coverage in Gasconade County, a move aimed at making high-speed Internet service available to the sparsely populated reaches of the county.

Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, said at last Thursday’s session the latest virtual gathering of the Gasconade County Broadband Committee was set for Friday morning via Zoom. The initial meeting of the panel operating under the auspices of the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) left Miskel and the other participants in a less-than-optimistic frame of mind regarding the expansion of broadband. The presiding commissioner explained that the general consensus was that increasing access to the Internet would require a massive amount of money.

“It all has to do with money and the cost,” Miskel said at a Commission session earlier this month.

Indeed, the most recent U.S. Census figures available on the matter give some indication on the cost that would be involved in providing Internet access to the outer reaches of the county, which now do not have access through telephone providers. The Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey results show that 85 percent of the households in Gasconade County have computers; however, only 77 percent have broadband Internet connections.

That means almost one-fourth of the households in the county are without access to the Internet at a time when being connected online is becoming more crucial for business, agriculture and education.

There is federal money within the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) earmarked for broadband expansion in rural counties, but local officials such as Miskel are concerned that the cost of expanding broadband to all who want it will be greater than the money available. He said nationwide there are about 3,000 rural counties with significant portions that lack broadband availability. That include the overwhelming majority of Missouri counties, he said, noting that he thinks that of Missouri’s 114 counties, 110 fall under the Internet desert classification.

County officials have yet to hear any firm plans from the federal government for putting the broadband money to use.

In other matters at last week’s session, the Commission agreed to cancel the Sept. 9 meeting because the county clerk and her staff will be in Jefferson City for the Count Clerks’ Association’s annual conference. One of the things County Clerk Lesa Lietzow hopes to learn more about at the gathering is the status of the redistricting of state legislative districts and how that effort might affect filing dates for the 2022 elections, including elections for county government offices.

Considering how late the national headcount was this time around — the only 2020 figures released so far are for redistricting purposes — it’s possible the usual filing periods (late February through late March) will be significantly pushed back. Lietzow noted in an earlier session that candidates won’t file until they know the exact boundaries of the districts they want to run in.

The Commission agreed to take part in County Government Day event this fall, a regular event coordinated by the Missouri University Extension Office in Gasconade County. Yet to be decided is the exact date of the event; Extension Office staff are considering either the week of Oct. 11 or Oct. 25.

At previous events, students in government classes at Gasconade County R-1 and R-2 school districts are treated to a day’s worth of up-close local government activity at the courthouse, including attending a session of Division 4 of the Circuit Court. The County Commission and other officials grill burgers and hot dogs for the students.

Last year’s County Government Day was scrapped because of the coronavirus.

And finally, Lietzow reported to the Commission that a second proposal has been received for a new telephone system for the courthouse offices. 

The existing system is about 15 years old and is limited in its ability to transfer calls from one office to another. A new phone system is expected to be one of the projects considered later this year when the Commission begins work on the 2022 operating budget. 

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